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Abandonment. Rejection. Grief.

It was a day in July 2002.  Sweat dripped down my back.  My hands were damp.  I was sitting in the file room of Eastern Social Welfare Society (ESWS) in Seoul, South Korea.  My social worker had just handed me a small sheet of paper.  You know the type.  The “grade school” paper.  The ones with the widely spaced horizontal lines kids once used to learn how to write.  My eyes scanned it.  Moving from left to right.  Taking in the thoughts expressed in big, blocky letters.  The words were written in English, not Korean, the native tongue of the writer.  Clearly, the boy had forgotten his original language.

The note ended happily:

“I love you. See you soon, Mom.
Love, Kevin”

For a brief moment, I was the grade school kid again, who had written that letter.  I was the kid, who, upon receiving no response, felt the deep, dark, cutting pain of abandonment, rejection, and grief.  My hands shook.  My chest heaved.  My vision blurred from tears.  About a week later I discovered that my mother had passed away a year and a half after I left South Korea.  The long shadow of abandonment, rejection, and grief changed; it didn’t leave when I came to terms with my adoption.

*****

Abandonment.  Rejection.  Grief.  These three words are frequently tossed around in the adoption community, but for me they are not so easily definable.  Nevertheless, I know how abandonment, rejection, and grief feel.  I understand their power.  I recognize how difficult it is to not be overpowered and crippled by them.  I’ve witnessed their seductive qualities; for much of my pre-teen and teenage years, abandonment, rejection, and grief painted for me an attractive, yet unhealthy landscape of blinding internal rage and hurt, irrational perceptions of self, and unaddressed depression.  Abandonment, rejection, and grief once owned me.  No longer.  I’ve learned control.  I combine abandonment, rejection, and grief with desire, hope, confidence, and a healthy dose of self-deprecation.  This mix is the fuel behind the work that I do through Land of Gazillion Adoptees.  The mix is what gives me the drive to play my small role in elevating and amplifying the voices of adult adoptees.

Generally, I prefer not to get this personal because, contrary to popular belief, I’m a private person.  Other adoptees, however, are prodding me to explain myself to the community, to talk about my motivations.  I also prefer not to address internal conflicts within the adoptee community for all to see, but, after some thought, I’ve come to the realization it’s time to discuss some stuff.  Just in the past few months alone, a handful of adoptees have made statements about Land of Gazillion Adoptees and me that are absolutely untrue.

I’ve been accused of plagiarizing another adoptee’s work and talking ill of said adoptee at the Joint Council presentation I did with Vietnamese adoptee Bert Ballard this past spring.  False.  I have witnesses.

I’ve been accused of leaving out certain, key individuals from important conversations.  Misleading.  The folks making this charge flat-out said no to me when I asked them this past spring to attend the July meeting with congressional staff and the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI).

I’ve been accused of “stealing” the adoptee citizenship issue from others.  More than that, I’ve been accused of writing an amendment for the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 (CCA) that purposely leaves out the likes of Russell Green.  Neither of these is accurate.  The adoptee citizenship conversation has been going on for years and has been pushed by a number of individuals and organizations; we all own “adoptee citizenship”.  Additionally, there’s a team behind the amendment for the CCA.  Another member of this team has done most of the writing, and the names of folks like Russell have been frequently mentioned in our talks.

The list goes on.

Honestly, I’m not sure why these accusations are being made, especially since there’s ample evidence to refute all of them.  Perhaps certain individuals feel underappreciated for all of the work that they’ve done. And if that is the case, I would wholly understand.  Many of us have been there.

At the same time, I’m sure of this.  Dominant groups appreciate infighting within subordinate communities, and we adoptees have repeatedly fallen into this self-created trap right before we make leaps in progress.  So, as all of us witness what can only be described as the beginnings of the new “adoptee revolution”/“adoptee renaissance”, the simple, yet complicated question we need to ask ourselves is: Can we own this together?

*****

A couple of days ago my four-year-old son and I went out for burgers, onion rings, fries, apple juice, and beer.  The meal was our last before my wife and daughter returned from a mini-vacation.  It was disgustingly fabulous; we enjoyed ourselves.  Walking out, my son declared, “That restaurant was fun!”  Indeed.  With that said, my son and I had a particular moment during that dinner.  My son, who generally reserves his affections for his mother, looked directly into my eyes and asked,

“Papa, can you sit by me?”

Smirk.  “Ah, why?”

Pause.  “Please don’t ever leave me, Papa.”

Shock.  “I’ll never leave you.”

Abandonment.  Rejection.  Grief.  I thought about my mother for a few minutes after my son went back to eating his fries.  I wondered how devastating the mix of abandonment, rejection, and grief must have been for her.  I, for a moment, shared the deep, dark, cutting pain she must have lived with after placing me, whom she had lovingly raised for six and a half years.  I empathized with her.  And through empathy I obtained a glimmer of understanding.

15 Comments on Abandonment. Rejection. Grief.

  1. If I can vouch for Kevin at all, if LGA was purposely trying to hurt people, leave people out, or push people out of discussion on important issues, I would not be here. I am tired and I have enough stress in my life. I don’t want to argue with people or hurt them. My goal is to get shit done, however it is that I can help to do that, and there is room for more than one person in a given cause or movement. Our focus at LGA, at least since I’ve been here, has been to search for ways to elevate adult adoptee voices using as many mediums as possible. Never once have I been in on a discussion where we’ve bashed anyone or plotted how to screw someone else over. It just doesn’t happen here.

  2. Kevin, to have so many people mad at you, you must be doing something right. Yes they are distractions. I’m going to start reading some of these posts to my girls at Shishur Sevay. They lost their families, were in government care, and now are here where we try to find ways for them to move on. We honor their mothers though, living or dead — usually not even knowing. But I think your writing will give words to their feelings by seeing outside themselves. Thank you.

  3. Psychobabbler // August 8, 2012 at 11:46 am // Reply

    Kevin, thank you for speaking your truth.

  4. Mary A. Coyle // August 8, 2012 at 12:25 pm // Reply

    Kevin, you truly are amazing for all that you do. Your last sentence really got to me. I have felt this over the past few years as my own children grow up. I have hoped that they, too, would be able to obtain this understanding. It may not happen until they have children, but I do hope that it happens. Keep on doing what you are doing. It works.

  5. Thank you for writing this, Kevin. It hit close to home. I’m glad you’re using your voice and bringing your personal experiences to your work, but at the same time, I know it’s hard to do, especially when you are a private person. It’s a brave, important thing.

  6. Keep doing what you do, call it like you see it, and know you have the support behind you and the whole LGA crew.

    Great post.

  7. You’re walking the walk, Kevin, and unfortunately others’ misinterpretations of your motives, actions and words come with the territory. Some of those misinterpretations will be the result of misunderstanding, others may be intentiona. Either way, you just keep speaking your truth, because your work is accomplishing a lot.

  8. Chris Futia // August 9, 2012 at 8:56 am // Reply

    Kevin, thank you for sharing these painful but important feelings and experiences with us. That you have been attacked by others who should be part of strong coalition of people working for the same aims is not surprising to me. It is a terrible shame that ANY energy should be wasted on who cc’s who on an email. As for the most important issues that need to be confronted, there is no such thing as “appropriation”. These issues belong to all of us and we all have a contribution to make in our own way. I am sorry that you have been made to feel uncomfortable for being who you are and doing what you can. Fortunately, the sun always rises on another day … and we march on.

  9. It’s sad when one feels accused with regard to rumors, especially when one is just trying to do the right thing. I can relate to what you’re saying. I’ve also been accused of trying to “own” the conversation around citizenship when instead I’ve ghostwritten late into the night and early morning, donated research and resources, paid for advocacy/research travel on my own dime, and looked for ways to transition out in order to prioritize my family while developing ongoing support for the cases that have contacted the campaign. In academia, it’s publish or perish, but like you and others in our community, I have made sacrifices out of a deep sense of commitment and love. Similarly, I’m not alone with regard to suffering accusations of turf war. Like others in our community, I’ve been silenced, shamed, smeared, and even redbaited among other painful backlash. As Margie says, that comes with the territory, and it’s oftentimes a sign that one speaks a dangerous truth.

    You emailed the campaign in the spring about a separate matter, but we didn’t receive an invitation to participate in DC. When we reached out to you in June because we wanted to be mindful of your work alongside ours, we were advised that you wanted nothing to do with me personally. That’s fine. It’s not about me and never has been. However, we could’ve put you in touch with Russell’s family to include their voices at the table. We could’ve put you in touch with other adoptees, and fosterees and parolees who are vulnerable to removal and who have contacted us directly for advocacy. We could’ve shared our research after studying these issues for the past year and working with individual cases across transnational/transracial communities to support your policy brief during key conversations in DC. If one cuts all communication, one increases the chance for misunderstandings and hurt feelings. But your blog post has enabled those channels to be re-established. Let’s please move toward shared political goals.

    We are eager to put you in touch with these cases. We want their voices to be heard, and we want them to be well-positioned to share their experiences with your team currently writing the amendment. For some of these cases, an amendment is their only hope for citizenship. Writing the amendment without specific language that covers the diversity of experiences of adoptees, fosterees, and parolees who are vulnerable to removal will mean that our community will have to try amending the amendment again or that we’ll be compromising on their lives inasmuch as the CCA overlooked ours back in 2000. It would be awesome to have a dialogue with you to share perspectives. Would you please consider posting your analysis? How should the CCA be amended? Let’s have a conversation.

    For instance, what are your thoughts about amendment language that will cover parolees who were brought to the US through babylifts but who weren’t adjusted to permanent residency? This is a question of particular relevance for some Operation Babylift VADs and a salient one for some children who entered the U.S. as part of the Help Haiti Act of 2010 and who might not be adjusted to permanent residency status by 2013 due to negligence or ignorance of the Help Haitian Adoptees Immediately to Integrate Act.

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